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Archive for the ‘Blessings’ Category

 

It happened again.

Steve and I had just finished our meal in a local restaurant when the waitress stopped by to check on us. We’ll call her Sarah.

“How was your dinner?” she asked.

“My chicken was delicious” I enthused. And then she looked to Steve.

“Well, this could have been better,” and he indicated his plate where a third of his steak remained. “It was left on the grill a little too long,” he explained. The dark, dry cast of the meat provided the undeniable evidence.

Sarah’s smile morphed into furrowed concern. “Oh, I am so sorry,” she exclaimed. “We have a new guy training on the grill tonight. He clearly let that steak overcook. Shall I have the chef fix you another?”

 

 

“No,” Steve replied. “That’s okay; I had enough.”

“Well, if you’re sure…Thank you for being so nice about it. I just took back five steaks from one table. They were not happy.”

“As a pastor for forty years, I know how people can be sometimes, forgetting their manners when they feel wronged. But this isn’t your fault,” Steve asserted.

Sarah nodded. “I’ll get your check,” she announced and dashed off.

Upon her return, Steve handed Sarah her tip in cash.

Now those of you who know Steve may guess her reaction to what she received, because he’s always been a very generous tipper. It’s part of his mission to be God’s agent, blessing other people in the name of Jesus (Matthew 25:40).

 

 

But Sarah’s response was a surprise. She began to cry. We could tell Sarah wanted to say something but she couldn’t speak for a moment.

“You don’t know what this means to me,” she choked. “I know God brought you in here tonight. It’s my fifth anniversary today for being sober, but it’s been a difficult day—not much of a celebration.

“When you said you’d been a pastor, I felt like God was saying he knows what I’ve been through. He sees the progress I’ve made. And now this.” Sarah indicated the bills in her hand as the tears continued to flow.

Now my eyes started to fill. To think: God had used us at just the right time to honor this young woman for her faith and perseverance.

“Well, you have to know,” Steve continued, “as a pastor, and Nancy here, a teacher, we didn’t make a fortune during our working years. But God has blessed us over and over and we just want to bless others—like you.”

“Thank you so much,” Sarah enthused. “I will never forget this.”

Steve and I won’t forget that encounter either. Surely as we left the restaurant our faces glowed as much as Sarah’s with the supreme joy of affirming her.

And Jesus’ beatitude that Paul quoted was proved yet again: It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).

 

 

In the last few years, scientific research has confirmed those words of Jesus. Now we know that generosity:

  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Increases self-esteem
  • Lessens depression
  • Lowers stress levels
  • Contributes to longer life
  • Increases happiness, as the “feel-good” chemicals of serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin are released.*

But that’s not all. When we give what we have, it may prove to be a treasure.

Our gift to Sarah returned a treasure to us of sublime satisfaction and euphoria—results far beyond what we expected. But Sarah’s gift of honesty and appreciation certainly blessed us beyond what she expected also.

 

https://www.azquotes.com/quote/539952

 

“Give what you have.

To someone, it may be better

than you dare to think.”

–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

* https://health.clevelandclinic.org/why-giving-is-good-for-your-health/

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.unsplash.com; http://www.pixfuel.com; http://www.canva.com (2); http://www.azquotes.com.

 

 

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Ask a group of young adults to name three of their life goals, and many of them will mention: success in their careers, loving families, and good friends.

Few if any will say, “to lead a quiet life.”

Yet God inspired Paul to write:

 

“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.”

–1 Thessalonians 4:11a

(emphasis added)

 

First, I suppose we ought to establish what a quiet life might include—qualities such as:

  • Composure
  • Humility
  • Kindness
  • Gentleness
  • Peacefulness

 

 

Equally valuable?   An understanding of what the quiet life would not include:

  • Boasting
  • Being easily-ruffled or offended
  • Whining and Complaining
  • Bossiness
  • Being argumentative

 

 

It’s easy to see: those who lead calm, kind, gentle lives are the ones we like to be around.  The second group of boasters, whiners, and arguers–not so much.

But there are many more benefits to the quiet life than offering pleasant company for others, honorable as that is. Consider the following:

 

A quiet life produces inner strength.

 

“Strength is found not in busyness and noise but in quietness.

For a lake to reflect the heavens on its surface, it must be calm.”

–L. B. Cowman (1)

 

Have you noticed that those with great inner strength and tranquility are most often grounded in faith?

 

(Grandma Rachel, circa 1910)

 

My grandmother(2) was just such a person.  Her strength through tragedy and challenge came from calm confidence in God and complete dependence upon him (Isaiah 30:15).  As a result, serenity and peace radiated from her life.

She was a 1 Corinthians 13 sort of woman—quietly patient, loving, and kind–not boastful, proud, or easily-angered.  I never heard her raise her voice, gossip, or complain. And she consistently thought of others before herself.

Those qualities of the quiet life Grandma exhibited, still radiate in my heart today.

And that leads us to the next benefit:

 

A quiet life provides resounding impact.

 

 

Sunbeams silently rest on plant and tree, generating photosynthesis and growth. Dewdrops silently form in the night, refreshing the ground. Gravity silently presses all matter to the earth.

Similarly, a life of tranquility provides a quiet, positive influence on others through calm demeanor and gentle speech.

Limited speech is also impactful. We’d never think to apply the adjective quiet to a nonstop talker, would we? Thinking-before-speaking includes this advice:

 

“Don’t speak unless you can improve on the silence.”

–Spanish Proverb

 

Columnist Robert Brault seeks to accomplish that feat this way:

 

“I like to think of myself as a finely aged wine,

and one thing that keeps a wine finely aged

is to put a cork in it” (3).

 

A quiet life wins respect (1 Thessalonians 4:11a, 12a).

 

 

Tirades and obnoxious behavior may garner rapt attention, but composure and self-restraint earn high regard.

We’d do well to remember:

 

“The only way to demonstrate

that Christianity is the best of all faiths

is to prove that it produces

the best of all men [and women].”

–William Barclay (4).

 

A quiet life is blessing.

 

1) Composure and contentment result as we grow in tranquility—highly desirable qualities in this world of unrest, discontent, and anger.

 

2)  A quiet life also steers us toward the blessing of maturity, where trivial annoyances no longer infuriate, giving is more fun than receiving, and building up someone else is more satisfying then bragging about ourselves.

 

https://quotefancy.com/quote/1557578/

 

3) The best blessing of all for humble, gentle, and peaceable individuals? The commendation of God himself (Matthew 5:3-9).

 

“How slow many are to learn

that quietness is a blessing,

that quietness is strength,

that quietness is the source

of the highest activity—

the secret of all true abiding in Christ!

Let us try to learn it

and watch for whatever interferes with it.

The dangers that threaten the soul’s rest are many.”

–Andrew Murray (1828-1917)

 

“Abide in me and I will abide in you” (John 15:4 ISV).

 

Notes:

  1. Streams in the Desert, p. 450
  2. I’ve written about her before: https://nancyaruegg.com/2013/02/18/1106/
  3. http://www.quotegarden.com/speaking.html
  4. The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, p. 234.

 

Photo credits:  http://www.pxfuel.com; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.pxfuel.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.quotefancy.com; http://www.pixabay.com.

 

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Biology defines life as

“the metabolic activity of protoplasm.”

But there are times when it seems even worse than that.

–Unknown*

 

Truthfully, a day of mere metabolic activity—going through the motions but without any delight or satisfaction—can hardly be called life. That’s simply existing.

What we really aspire to is a life of vitality, purpose, and joy.

The question is, how do we find it?

Some pursue pleasure, accumulate wealth and possessions, and/or fight against the effects of aging. But these activities provide momentary satisfaction at best.

 

 

Then there’s a different kind of living—life in Jesus.

I am the life,” he proclaimed (John 11:25, 14:6).

And millions upon millions of people through the centuries have lived out the truth of his statement—with the vitality, purpose, and joy he offers.

That’s because:

 

Jesus is our source for life.

 

 

To be alive with Christ is to have eternal life.

That could be a curse if it meant enduring intolerable conditions decade after decade, century after century.

But what we’re promised is God’s eternity–heavenly bliss–when we pass from this life to the next.

Until that moment we’re privileged with God’s presence and his activity in our livesIn addition, he delights to saturate our imperfect inner selves with his own excellencies (Ephesians 3:19), transforming us into his likeness.  And that in turn provides delight for us.

 

Jesus is our sustenance for life.

 

 

“I am the bread of life.

Whoever comes to me

Will never go hungry.”

–John 6:35

 

As bread supports physical life, Jesus supports spiritual life.

How? Sustenance occurs as we meditate on him—his attributes, acts of power, and wonderful works.

Just thinking about the vastness of his creative genius, the splendor of his miracles, and the overflow of his blessings breathes new life—strength, stamina, and joy—into our spirits.

 

 

Jesus is our solution for life.

 

 

Breathe in the assurance of God’s truth and the hope of his promises:

“The Lord is strong and mighty, therefore overwhelming victory is mine through Christ who loves me” (Psalm 24:8; Romans 8:37 NLT).

“From him and through him and to him are all things, therefore all circumstances are in the capable hands of my great God and Savior” (Romans 11:36; Titus 2:13).

“With God all things are possible, therefore he will fulfill his purpose for me” (Matthew 19:26; Psalm 138:8, emphasis added).

Such statements revitalize faith and attitude.

 

Jesus is our solace for life.

 

 

Take comfort in who Jesus is:

  • Our indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15). All we have to do is accept.
  • Our constant companion (Matthew 28:20). All we have to do is acknowledge his presence.
  • Our wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6). All we have to do is ask.
  • Our burden-bearer (Matthew 11:28). All we have to do is come to him.
  • Our all-powerful overcomer (John 16:33). All we have to do is avail ourselves and remember our enemy is already defeated.

 

There is no protoplasmic subsistence with Jesus.

You are a member of God’s royal family because of Jesus (John 1:9)–even during days of mundane repetition or unrecognized contribution.

As a result of your standing, all things have become new.  You’ve been revitalized into an extraordinary creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) and bestowed with cosmic significance, a personalized place in the scheme of meaningful events and divine purposes (Philippians 2:13).

 

 

All because of Jesus.

He does indeed make life worth living.

 

*from Quote/Unquote, compiled by Lloyd Cory, Victor Books, 1977, p. 181.

 

Photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.heartlight.org (3).

 

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Pretend you’re a crew member on a cargo ship, and the captain has just announced rough seas ahead. That means just walking will be a challenge. Things on tabletops and floors will tumble and roll if not secured, and sleeping will require wedging yourself into position to keep from being tossed back and forth.

But the captain reminds you, there is good news. A full load of heavy freight in the hold will provide stability and safety against the waves. The rocking will be greatly curtailed.

All of us at some time or other face storms in life, and the same principle applies: certain kinds of cargo provide stability–not the lightweight freight of feel-good pep talks, relaxation techniques, or plain avoidance.

Cargo of substance is required, such as:

 

 

Joy

“The joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

Simply affirming all the ways God demonstrates his love to us will quickly fill a large compartment with delight.   Last week’s post, Be Glad, included many reasons to rejoice in God.

 

 

Quietness and Trust

“In quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).

If you haven’t already done so, make space in the hold of your heart for frequent quiet times with God, perhaps by going to bed earlier and rising earlier.

Very soon time spent in his presence and in his Word will become one of your favorite times of day.   You’ll find it transformative also, creating strong bonds of trust with your Heavenly Father. Just ask anyone who has established the habit.

 

 

Promises

“He has given us great and precious promises” (2 Peter 1:4).

But they can offer no stability if we’ve not stored them in the hold our hearts.

“Grasp them by faith,” Charles Spurgeon wrote long ago.   “Plead them by prayer, expect them by hope, and receive them by gratitude.”

Not that a compartment full of promises will protect us from all harm. But our attitude toward the storms of life will be very different as fear is replaced by faith.

 

 

God’s Grace

“It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace” (Hebrews 13:9b).

And what is grace?  I like the old standby definition, an easy-to-remember acronym:  God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

This compartment is worth checking often, to examine the wealth of substantial contents stored there.

Several years ago I surveyed scripture for that wealth and discovered forty-seven gifts tucked behind the door of grace.*

Thomas a Kempis was right:

 

 

So if you don’t feel quite strong enough to face the challenges of 2020, add more weight in the cargo hold of your heart:

  • More joy in who your God is and more delight in what he does
  • Frequent quiet times alone with God, for meditation on his Word, talking with him and listening to him
  • A collection of promises, especially those that apply to your situation
  • Attention to the many facets of God’s grace and how each one impacts your life

Of course, if these blessings could be placed in the cargo hold of a ship, a record would be kept of each compartment’s contents.

The same is true of the cargo holds of our hearts, though for different reason. We can enhance our joy, strengthen our faith, increase our wisdom, encourage our spirits, and augment our worship of God—all as we keep record in a journal or notebook.

 

 

“The deepest satisfaction of writing

is precisely that it opens up new spaces within us

of which we were not aware before we started to write.”

–Henri Nouwen

 

M-m-m. More space for more compartments to add more cargo.

 

What would you put into one of them?

 

*(You can compare your list of God’s graces to mine at Undeserved Goodness Part 1 and Part 2.)

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.flickr.com (2); http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.pexels.com.

 

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“Let all who take refuge in you be glad;

let them ever sing for joy.

Spread your protection over them,

that those who love your name

may rejoice in you.

Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous;

you surround them with your favor

as with a shield.”

–Psalm 5:11-12

 

Thank you, Father, for each line of encouragement here, presenting truth worthy of contemplation and celebration. To that end this is my prayer:

 

 

I praise you, O God, for being my unfailing refuge—my protector and sanctuary.

Year after year you have:

  • Supplied my needs, like the three teaching positions you provided–each one a miracle (1)
  • Brought me through difficult circumstances, including moves to new communities that initially I wanted no part of
  • Surprised my husband and me with delights we didn’t expect, such as a generous check enclosed with a note, suggesting we enjoy much-needed R & R at our favorite getaway

 

(Aviles Street, St. Augustine, FL)

 

I’m not just glad you’re my refuge, I’m elated! My heart sings in celebration of your perfections, sovereignty, and kindness. You provide unending delight!

You have been my protection, preserving my life:

  • In dangerous circumstances, including that narrow mountain road outside Quito, Ecuador
  • From near accidents, such as that red-light runner who could have sent me spinning into heavy traffic
  • Through natural disasters, like those hurricanes during our forty years in Florida

 

(Hurricane Charley damage, 2004)

 

You have been my protection emotionally, carrying me through:

  • The incomprehensible, like the senseless death of a young friend
  • Hurtful circumstances, when those we trusted proved unreliable
  • Disappointment, as certain hopes were not realized

I thank you, Father, for every time you’ve limited our ordeals so we could endure; and when necessary you’ve given us your strength to withstand every difficulty (2).

 

  

I praise you, O God, that the righteous are not those who always say and do the right thing. Such a standard would disqualify me. Rather, the righteous include those who trust in you and love your many names–Shepherd, Counselor, Helper, and more.

I praise you that your favor includes adoption into your family, freedom from the eternal consequences of our sin, and freedom from guilt—when we ask Jesus into our lives (3).

You graciously give us access to your presence. And when we come you are always ready to listen, uplift, and advise (4).

 

 

You’ve designed us for purpose, to give us glorious satisfaction in life, and day after day you lavish blessing (5), including:

  • The privilege to watch children grow—from first steps to first race, from mere sounds to sentences, from making scribbles to writing stories
  • The delight of old friends we know well and new friends we want to know well
  • Your creativity all around us, whether it’s azure skies or smoke-like clouds, sunbeam ribbons or raindrop jewels, verdant treetops or bare filigree branches

 

 

Your shield of favor also stands between each of us and the evil forces on every side. You are beneath us as a foundation, over us as a shelter, at our right hand as security, before us to lead the way, and within us to provide strength (6).

Keep me mindful of all these glorious truths, O God—truths that make me more than glad. And as this new year begins, may my days be laced with praise to you, my choices motivated by gratitude to you, and my faith be strong in you until that day you take me home.

 

 

 

Notes:

  1. Two of those miracles are detailed in other posts, After the Fact and The Greater Plan.
  2. 1 Corinthians 10:13; Isaiah 41:10
  3. Ephesians 1:3-7
  4. Ephesians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:12; 2 Corinthians 1:3; Psalm 145:14; James 1:5
  5. Ephesians 1:11-12, 2:10; John 1:16
  6. Isaiah 28:16; Psalm 91:1; Psalm 73:23; John 10:3b, 4b; 1 John 4:4

 

(Photo credits:  http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; naplesnews.com; http://www.bible.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.commons.wikipedia.org.)

 

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What are the immense graces of this moment for you?  Please share an example in the Comment section below.  Let’s celebrate together the gifts of His love.

 And a joy-filled day of Thanks-giving to all!

 

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I know. It’s the week before Thanksgiving. If we start feasting on stuffing, mashed potatoes, and squash casserole now, we’ll gain five to ten pounds before the holiday even arrives.

It’s a different kind of feasting the post-title alludes to, the kind Reverend J. R. MacDuff recommended long ago.

And just for fun I’ll make a fill-in-the-blank from his statement, and you can guess the key phrase:

 

“Cultivate _______________.

It will be to thee a perpetual feast.”

—J.R. MacDuff

 

How would you complete the quote?

  1. an attentive outlook?
  2. a thankful spirit?
  3. a cheerful attitude?
  4. a faithful heart?

I’ll bet you guessed correctly, given the season.  MacDuff chose #2, a thankful spirit. But missing from his quote is an explanation of how gratitude could possibly offer the pleasure of a perpetual feast.

Perhaps he would suggest the following.

 

Gratitude fosters a positive perspective.

 

 

 

“Some people grumble that roses have thorns;

I am grateful that thorns have roses.”

—Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr

 

In recent years scientific research has proven the benefits of optimistic thinking, including increased life span, less stress, better sleep, fewer colds, and better cardiovascular health. Gratitude to God surely augments the benefits.

 

“The optimist says, the cup is half full.

The pessimist says the cup is half empty.

The child of God says, my cup overflows.

–Anonymous

 

Gratitude develops a sense of awe.

 

 

“Gratitude bestows reverence,

allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies,

those transcendent moments of awe

that change forever how we

experience life and the world.”

—John Milton

 

Think of the delight young children express when they encounter a ladybug sauntering across a rock, a sliver of rainbow glimmering on the wall, or a leaf shower providing a game of catch.

As we follow their lead, we’ll discover our ordinary days are laced with many transcendent moments to be grateful for.   And our hearts will fill with reverent awe for the Creator of these and all good things.

 

Gratitude strengthens our faith.

 

 

“Count blessings and find out

how many of His bridges have held…

Gratitude lays out the planks of trust

from today into tomorrow.”

–Ann Voskamp, 1000 Gifts

 

Keep a written record of those planks. You’ll be amazed how quickly they accumulate.

 

Gratitude ushers in joy!

A nearby church posted the following wisdom on their marquee:

 

 

To that end, we can engage our senses with a thankful heart, finding joy in:

  • milkweed maidens poised for dancing
  • crackling leaves breeze-rustled into a huddle
  • a winged wedge of geese honking good-bye
  • flannel shirts and fleece vests—cozy as a hug
  • cinnamon apple tea:  autumn in a cup

 

 

Ordinary experiences can be turned into extraordinary blessings–by the power of gratitude.

 

Gratitude contributes to a heart of humility.

 

“Pride slays thanksgiving,

but a humble mind is the soil

out of which thanks naturally grow.

A proud man is seldom a grateful man,

for he never thinks he gets

as much as he deserves.”

–Henry Ward Beecher

 

The humble and grateful person realizes everything comes from God and nothing is deserved.

 

 

Gratitude cultivates a calm spirit.

 

“It’s impossible to give thanks

and simultaneously feel fear.”

–Ann Voskamp, 1000 Gifts

 

We can express gratitude for all God is—his sovereignty and strength, his wisdom and loving kindness, his grace and glory—thus acknowledging his ability to bring good out of every situation. It releases us from the grip of fear and allows us to rest—in him.

 

 

_________________________

 

There you have it—just a few results from a perpetual feast of gratitude:

 

  • A positive perspective
  • Awe-inspiring wonder
  • Strengthened faith
  • Continual joy
  • Quiet contentment
  • Holy peace

 

Let the gratitude-feast begin!

 

(Photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.torange.biz; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.dailyverses.net, http://www.publicdomainpictures.net.)

 

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